According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 25 percent of American seniors have diabetes, a manageable but serious disease that prevents the body from properly processing food into energy and can lead to life-threatening complications including heart disease and stroke.

While basic facts about living with diabetes may be well known, at-risk populations—including those aged 65 and older—may not be familiar with prediabetes, a precursor to the disease. Prediabetes often goes unnoticed, but if it is diagnosed and treated, seniors can greatly reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

pre_diabetes_one_instagramIn a recently released study, “The Facts about Prediabetes and Older Americans,” the AARP Public Policy Institute reported that almost half—48.3 percent—of U.S. seniors have prediabetes. This means their blood sugar levels are abnormally high, but they do yet have all the diagnostic criteria necessary to be classified as diabetic.

Because prediabetes most often does not have any signs or symptoms, a senior could be pre-diabetic for years without knowing. As such, it is vital to get regular checkups and report any changes in hunger, thirst and fatigue levels to your physician.

Once a person’s blood sugar has reached pre-diabetic levels, it is highly likely they will develop Type 2 diabetes, in which the body cannot properly metabolize sugar. With Type 2 diabetes, a person’s body either prevents insulin’s ability to regulate sugar or the person’s body doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain normal sugar levels.

However, a diagnosis of prediabetes does not guarantee an eventual Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. A proper diet and lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.

Low physical activity is a risk factor for both prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. However, physical limitations will prevent many of the seniors Meals on Wheels of RI serves from even taking short walks around their homes.

It is because of this that a proper diet—such as one that includes a daily-delivered, complete and nutritious meal from Meals on Wheels of RI—is maintained. A diet high in processed foods and sugar—which many of those who cannot prepare their own meals rely on—also increases the risk for prediabetes.

Other risk factors include being overweight, having a family history of Type 2 diabetes, getting poor-quality sleep due to conditions such as sleep apnea, and being a woman who had gestational diabetes and/or gave birth to a baby weighing 9 lbs. or more. prediabetes_three

In addition to proper nutrition—which will help maintain a healthy weight—homebound seniors can help decrease their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by drinking water instead of sugary drinks and not smoking.

Though a diagnosis of prediabetes can only be made by your doctor, an online screening from the Centers for Disease Control—which measures risk levels across all age groups—is available here.